New Treatment May Improve Tinnitus Discomfort

Healthnotes Newswire (October 11, 2007)—Tinnitus, an unwanted noise in the ear such as a ringing or humming sound, can lead to insomnia, interfere with work, and cause psychological distress. A new study suggests that a treatment known as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation may decrease tinnitus in certain people.

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation refers to a technique that stimulates the nerve cells (neurons) in the brain, which can lead to a change in the way the brain functions. This process of stimulating the brain to change its function is known as “neuromodulation.” Specifically, a coiled wire is placed against the patient’s head and electrical currents are sent through the wire and directed at a specific region of the brain. This therapy has been studied in a number of conditions including psychiatric disorders, pain syndromes, and tinnitus. The exact mechanism by which the technique works is not known.

In the latest study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, 16 people with moderate to severe tinnitus were randomly assigned to receive repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (treatment group) or a sham technique (control group).

The majority of people had tinnitus that was related to hearing loss. The treatment group received high-intensity repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation to the brain for one hour each day for five days. The control group had the coil directed at the same region of the brain but tilted so that the magnetic field could not have a therapeutic effect.

The treatment group experienced a significant improvement in their level of tinnitus discomfort that lasted up to two weeks. Tinnitus discomfort did not significantly improve in the control group. “At the moment, clinical implications are limited, since the benefit lasts a few days,” notes Simone Rossi, MD, PhD, lead author from the Department of Neuroscience, Policlinico Le Scotte in Siena, Italy. “However, the approach is promising to better investigate pathogenetic mechanisms of tinnitus, thereby providing new clues for a better treatment.”

Tinnitus may affect a person’s quality of life and may even be disabling for some. Dr. Rossi is hopeful that further research will lead to a better understanding of the role of this technique in tinnitus treatment. The next step, she said, could be to identify possible candidates for surgical implants of neurostimulators, which might interfere with tinnitus generation. She noted that similar approaches are already used to treat people who have chronic pain that does not respond to medication.

(J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2007;78:857–63)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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